Most of the time, going to the gym is a solo activity. Aside from the occasional sweat session with a friend or cardio kickboxing class you hit up with a co-worker at the end of a particularly stressful week, it can be hard enough to stick to your own gym schedule, let alone factor in someone else’s.
But according to research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, you may stand to reap major workout benefits when you make those occasional tandem training sessions into standing dates, even if they’re virtual.
To explore how team mentality can impact our mindsets, a team of Stanford University psychologists performed a series of five experiments in which they had groups of three to five participants try to solve puzzles. Some of the participants met in groups beforehand and were then sent to separate rooms to work on their portion of what they believed was the same puzzle. Other participants were left to puzzle without thinking they were working with anyone else.
Even though all the participants were ultimately working alone, those who thought they were on a puzzling team worked 48% longer to try to solve the puzzle than those who were told they were going it alone. The team puzzlers also rated the activity as being more interesting and were more motivated to finish it.
According to the researchers, training with a team helps to flip our mindset from work to play. Think about it this way: When you hit the gym with a friend, your sweat session doubles as social time.
And as the study showed, you don’t actually have to be in the same room to harness the effects. Using an app to compete against your brunch crew or book club might help you push through that extra mile on the treadmill just to make it to the top of the leaderboard. In other words, you’re getting something else out of your training time other than just the satisfaction of meeting your personal goal.
There is one important caveat to the performance-boosting results: Feeling obligated to work out due to social pressure might backfire on your performance. Having a gym buddy may help to keep you accountable, but if you want to actually enjoy your workouts, feel more motivated during them and keep pushing yourself to perform better, working out with your “team” should feel like a fun experience, not an obligatory one.
So how can you harness these effects if you currently train alone? Get a few of your friends to sign up for the same fitness app so you can track your progress together (MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness and UA Record are great places to start). You can even set group goals and compete against another set of friends or coworkers rather than against one another.
And to make getting to a Sunday morning spin class seem more bearable, make it a standing date with your group of friends before you head to brunch. If you can beat your collective miles from last week, you all get a second round of mimosas.